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Disruptions Are Coming

But count me among those who expect one or more disruptions over coming days and months. Why? First is timing. There are only nine days before the current CR runs out, and the Senate will be away for half of them. Of course, negotiations are going on behind the scenes, but the differences between the CR that passed the House and the one that will be crafted by the Senate are real, broad and deep, and not easily resolved. It is always an option to extend the CR, but Republicans will not go along with the usual, an extension at existing funding levels, and it will not be easy to get an agreement on any across-the-board percentage cut for even a week or two.

Even if we see a short-term extension, there is a larger issue: the enormous gulf between the two sides. It would be enormous even at the level that House Budget Czar Paul Ryan initially set, cutting $41 billion from non-security discretionary spending, amounting to a 15.4 percent cut for the remainder of the year if done across-the-board. But the Wisconsin Republican and his leadership colleagues were forced to up the ante to $61 billion by their conservative colleagues, in a party where the once-fringe conservative caucus, the Republican Study Committee, now includes more than two-thirds of the entire House majority. So now we are looking at a more than 20 percent cut if across-the-board. The cuts, after the House worked its will, are not across-the-board. They include many program and funding erasures, in areas from Planned Parenthood support to public broadcasting, but also serious cutbacks in border security, health research, oversight of the financial markets that got us into the economic mess, disease control, emergency management, educational assistance and on and on. Amid a devastatingly weak job market, they would mean major job cuts. Neither the Senate nor the president would accept the level of immediate cuts, or many of the substantive changes.

So what happens if and when the two sides reach an agreement to cut, say $15 to $20 billion, or even $25 billion from the current year's funding? Will the 87 freshmen in the House who say almost uniformly that they came to Washington to fulfill their explicit pledge to cut $100 billion settle quickly for twenty cents on the dollar? Will Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and Tea Party leaders around the country applaud them or denounce them if they cave quickly? Will they find a way to put off the confrontation another month or so until the debt ceiling is reached and use their leverage there for a higher-stakes confrontation? And what happens then? No one can answer those questions definitively. But my answers make me believe that the odds of one or more disruptions are very, very high.

Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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